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Utilitarians vs. Kant on Euthanasia Essay

Euthanasia is the practice of ending a life in order to release an individual from unbearable suffering or an incurable disease. Euthanasia the word is derived from Ancient Greek, Eu meaning “good” and Thantos meaning “Death” and when combined the term means “Good Death”. Mercy Death by definition is taking a direct action to terminate a person’s life because the person has requested to do so. This also includes physician assisted suicide, not to be confused with suicide which is the taking of one’s life by one’s own hand without assistance.

Mercy Killing is also a term used and it refers to someone taking a direct action to terminate a person’s life without the person’s permission. Within this paper I will discuss Immanuel Kant and the utilitarianism ethical theories revolving around the issues of euthanasia. Euthanasia or “mercy killing/death” as it may be referred to as has become more complex as the centuries go on; there are three specific forms of Euthanasia. There is Voluntary, Involuntary, and Nonvoluntary euthanasia.

Voluntary Euthanasia is when someone other than the patient intentionally terminates the patient’s life. The term Mercy Death can be applied to this type of Active Euthanasia because the patient is giving voluntary consent; such as a “living will’ or communicating verbally. A “living will” is a written document that the patient who is terminally ill instructs anybody to take his/her own life. Involuntary Euthanasia is the complete opposite of the voluntary form of euthanasia. This is when the patient’s life is taken without the consent of the patient.

This form of euthanasia is morally unacceptable and plays no current role in the debate over euthanasia in our modern society. Non-voluntary is a type of euthanasia that happens when a person becomes incapacitated due to being unconscious, comatose or in any other manner that makes the patient unable to make their wishes be known. This responsibility is most often passed onto a family member to make any further decisions in the patient’s future wellbeing. Let’s go even further into defining euthanasia. To understand the debate on this issue we must dig a little bit deeper into the defining of euthanasia.

Now the question remains; is it morally right or wrong to take someone else’s life? Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher (1724-1804) who was born in Konigsberg. He studied at the University of Konigsberg and received what is equivalent in today’s society as a PhD in 1755. Kant set the foundation as we know it for what is call “deontology”, by definition this means taking a position that judges the morality of an action based upon the action’s following a set rules or commonly known as duties or obligations.

Under Kant’s ethical theory it is wrong to take another person’s life unless it is for capital punishment. According to Kant under no circumstances should euthanasia be legalized or encouraged. One reason for this is that it goes against “The Universal Law”. This states that all moral actions should be both universal and applied to all people in all situations. It also states that if they are not universal then they are in contradictions in The Law of Nature, and if they can’t be willed to be universal they are in contradiction of “The Law of the Will”.

In turn act that the maxim (rule of conduct) of our own will, this could always hold at the same time as a principle of establishing “The Universal Law”. As an example the maxim would be killing a person which is not universal because it will lead to the end of the human race as we know it which violates The Law of Nature. It is equally as bad to be Universal because it would lead to your own death and the killing of all your loved ones; this goes against “The Law of the Will”. According to Kant people should always be treated as ends in themselves and not as a means to an end.

With this being said Kant may have said that using a doctor as a means to an end is wrong as this gives them instrumental value rather than an intrinsic value. Since we’ve established that Kant is strongly against euthanasia; at least active euthanasia. We can now discuss the arguments of Thiroux in relativity to this debate. Active euthanasia, it is in direct violation of the value of life principle. This means that the involvement of taking a life usually means killing an innocent person. This is unlike the defense of an innocent, war or capital punishment.

It can also be open to the domino argument, which essentially argues if human beings allow one thing to be declared legal or moral; this could cause a multitude of others bad things to follow. The church also have the argument over religious practices and means that God gave us life as a gift, so why should we have the right to take it away again? The religious aspect has many different reasons for being against euthanasia but all religions stem from the belief of a higher power or being giving us the gift of life. There are also other available options as in possibly of finding a cure or using hospice as an alternative.

So in result Immanuel Kant has his own ethical theory and arguments revolving around the taking of one’s life via euthanasia, therefore many arguments or debates can be given to defend the right not to take another individuals life based on one’s own ethical views. A second ethical theory that can be raised is what stance does Utilitarianism takes on the debate of euthanasia. A brief definition of Utilitarianism is that they use an ethical doctrine or a set of guidelines that a virtue is based on utility (usefulness), and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people involved.

Utilitarian’s are consequentialists, who are exactly what they sound like; they focus on holding consequences for any and all actions. They do this by weighing out the consequences and taking important considerations of all actions being considered. Basically utilitarians ethical theories are almost the complete opposite of Immanuel Kant’s philosophical views. Just in keeping in the specific area of debate on taking a life, utilitarians are for euthanasia in some circumstances.

Do utilitarian’s sacrifice the innocent for the common wellbeing of others? When they are faced with a moral dilemma like killing a person or not prolonging an individual suffering from an incurable disease, they have to take in all considerations involving the action this includes the consequences. A utilitarian must evaluate the overall people involved and the welfare of those people or that can be affected by the action being taken for example all family members who are watching the suffering or those peering at someone who is being killed.

To calculate all those involved a utilitarian must view every individual as an equal and see that it fits the category of being for the overall happiness and goodness for all. Unfortunately the utilitarian making the decision has no realistic way in gathering all necessary information needed to make such a large decision because there isn’t any experience or any weights to base their decision on. In regards to this information there are arguments to be discussed for those in favor of Mercy killing/death or all forms of euthanasia.

One argument could be stated that we are all individuals and have the freedom to make any decision regarding our own lives, body and souls. This argument is a main one that a lot of individuals favor because people think that they should have the right to decide when they want to end their own lives or suffering. The consideration should also be made that the individual made a free and rational choice to die and we the people should acknowledge that it is not a right but yet a free will. People could also bring up the debate that we have the right to use euthanasia to kill an animal but not ourselves.

The animal did not choose to die but as a human being, we have chosen an animal to be above us and end their suffering but yet we are unable to even have the choice to end our own. Euthanasia, or “Mercy Killing/Death,” as it has been called, is certainly not an issue regarding two points of view, there as many sides to it. Euthanasia, after all ranges from simply allowing someone to die naturally without life support or “pulling the plug” (passive euthanasia); all the way to the extreme cases regarding Jack Kevorkian’s suicide machine (active euthanasia).

There are many other ethical theories that could be discussed involving taking an individual’s life. I have very mixed feelings regarding these issues because I have belief in both Immanuel Kant’s ethical Theory and in Utilitarianism. The argument regarding the decision to legalize euthanasia, what will stop someone from “crossing the line” of murder versus euthanizing an individual? It could cause it to open many doors for legal statues to be made and certain restrictions made by the government. Although safeguards would need to be in place for this type of an action; it still can cause the modern society to become divided.

I also agree with utilitarians in the beliefs of making all considerations and overall happiness to all involved even if that may include taking a life for someone who is suffering or simply wants to end their own life. All of the arguments I have discussed, there will always be two sides to the debate, for and against. The debate to take another person’s life will never end as long people have free will; to me, at the end of the day the decision is still left to be made not based on ethical theories but by our own internal moral feelings. Works Cited Jacques P. Thiroux – Keith W.

Krasemann – Ethics: theory and practice -Upper Saddle River, NJ – Pearson Prentice Hall-2007 ch. 10 “Allowing Someone to Die, Mercy Death and Mercy Killing. Bayles D. Michael, Euthanasia and the Quality of Life an Article in Quality of Life: The New Medical Dilemma, James W. and Shanna T. A. (Eds), (New York: Paulist Press, 1990). Devine J. R. , (Ed), Good Care Painful Choice: Medical Ethics for Ordinary People, (PaulistPress: New York, 2006) Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the limits of Reason Alone, translated by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson.

Harper Torchbooks, 1960.p. 5. Kant, I. The Metaphysics of Morals, Retrieved on April 1st, 2004. From Stanford University: http://w1. 155. telia. com/~u15525046/ny_sida_9. htm Rachel James, The Right To Die, (Random House Incorporated: New York 1980). Unknown Author (1999, 10). Mercy Killing StudyGuide. com Retrieved 10, 1999 from http://www. studyguide. com/document/mercy-killing-6880. html Wright, R. (2000) Euthanasia and the Way We Think, Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol. 33:533, Retrieved on March 15th, 2004 © Archil Avaliani 2004 From:http://llr. lls. edu/volumes/v33-issue2/wright. pdf.


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